CIRCULARITY ENVIRONMENT SUSTAINABILITY
Demystifying circularity and making it accessible for all.
By now most people have probably heard a lot of chatter around the topic circularity, the circular economy, closed-loop, life cycle and a whole manner of things about circles.
Maybe you, like many, have the vague notion that it’s something good, perhaps something that we should all be striving for, but have found it to be so riddled with complex terminology and baffling acronyms that you’re feeling pretty lost. How exactly does this relate to you in terms of your weekly shop, or that shirt you’ve had your eye on?
This topic has been unwittingly dumped into the public domain in a way that feels so corporate and technical that to a large proportion of the population it has become intimidating at best, unattainable at worst.
This is not the case at all. In fact, this is inherently wrong!
Circularity doesn’t have to be intimidating, in fact, it can be simplified rather beautifully into ideals that are pretty easy to understand, and better still easy to subscribe to, it’s just a case of being able to see past all the grandiose vocabulary and look for the legitimate information you need to get started.
So let’s start at the very beginning — The basics of Circularity?
Or how about we start with how we got in this mess in the first place…
The Linear Economy
For a long time, our economy had been ‘linear’. This meant raw materials were used to make a product, once the product had reached its end of life it was thrown away. Any associated waste from making the product was also thrown away.
The Recycling Economy
Next came the recycling economy, this is where we began to address the issue of a linear economy and where materials started to be reused. So for example, aluminium cans, and glass which can both be recycled indefinitely. Wastepaper can make new paper, and now even plastic can be recycled to make new plastic. The problem is, this is not enough. First of all, only a tiny amount of all waste can even be legitimately recycled, secondly, there is such a large amount of waste we simply don’t have the means to keep up. If we want to provide food, shelter, heating and other necessities in the future, then we need to make some radical changes before it’s too late.
The Circular Economy
In a circular economy, designers, product developers, manufacturers and many other parts of the supply chain are considering the purpose of their item from the outset so they can set it up to align with one or more of the pillars of circularity.
If we start with raw materials — firstly those materials must be sustainable. If it is something that is farmed, this will mean practices such as crop rotation will come into play; this ensures the condition of the soil does not deteriorate, and the crop will continue to thrive.
All materials will be reused as much as possible. So, for example, plastics can be broken down into plastic pellets ready to be used again, glass, paper and cans can be recycled. Then there is the repair part, where products are designed in such a way that if they break, they can be mended. If it can’t be repaired, then it can be dismantled so the individual parts can be reused. A circular economy is a thinking economy, it’s about looking for solutions so that it can continuously feed into its own development, making sure every possible option has been exhausted before it’s discarded as trash. Circularity is regenerative; it’s aimed at minimising waste and maximising resources.
When it’s explained like that, it doesn’t sound so unattainable does it, in fact, isn’t this how we used to live?
In very simplistic terms, it’s a slower more considered way of life, thinking carefully about the impact of decisions.
But how can you incorporate this way of thinking into your everyday life?
Lots of ways, it’s not as hard as you might think, and definitely not something that is only reserved for businesses. In fact, the more people sign up to this way of thinking, the faster we start to head in the right direction which is better for the planet and the people.
With this in mind, I have created some simple guiding prompts. These will help you to learn what sort of questions you can ask to ensure you are headed down a more planet conscious path.
1. Waste Avoidance
Packaging Is A Big One Here!
Buy your veggies from the market, or grow your own.
Bulk buy and use refill stations.
Always take your own bags to use.
Don’t accept those single-use napkins in an individual packet.
How can I grow my own?
Are there any allotments in my area?
If it does come in packaging, is the packaging compostable/ recyclable/reusable?
(Is it in the least packaging possible ie. Not a packet AND a box and a bag)
2. Product Cleanliness
Good examples are the cosmetics market with ‘clean’ skincare, or ‘natural’ cleaning products for the house.
Read the ingredients — do you know what this stuff is?
Is it a natural product?
Is this something you can make yourself?
When it breaks down will the product cause harm?
Is the packaging clean and can it be used again or composted/recycled?
3. Only Buy What You Need
Challenge yourself to stop impulse buying new things. Plan meals ahead.
Do you really need to buy it?
Can you buy it second hand somewhere else?
Is it ethically made?
Is it fast fashion?
Will you eat it all?
Can it be stored/frozen?
4. Shop Local
Support local businesses as much as possible, it’s better for your community and the environment.
Where will you buy it from?
Do you have to go to the supermarket?
Can you buy it from an independent source?
Is there a food cooperative in your area?
5. Shop Seasonal
Buying things out of season often means they have been imported and/or have had assistance in the form of pesticides. You can find tonnes of articles on the internet which tell you what produce is in season.
What vegetables are in season where you live now?
Can I swap out an ingredient in this recipe to use something that is in season?
Toys, Electronics, Shoes; Things That Have Multiple Components
How easy is it to disassemble that at end of life?
Are the components useful to make something else?
Can they be recycled/composted if not?
This Can Apply To Anything. You just have to have a little vision and see past the initial flaws. Clothes and Furniture Are Great examples when you are shopping 2nd hand or thrifted.
Can you take this item and repurpose it?
Can you improve it?
(re-finish a table, upholster a sofa, add new buttons to a shirt)
Can it be made into something else?
(a ladder makes a great support for a bookshelf)
This is for something you have, but it’s seen better days.
Can it be refurbished?
Is your product repairable by a professional?
(get your shoes re-soled or a new zipper put in that skirt)
Can you repair it? (Kintsugi and boro visible mending are very fashionable)
Can it be donated/is it of use to someone else?
Can it be deconstructed and repurposed?
If you are about to buy something, especially an investment piece; these are good questions to ask.
A black t-shirt is more versatile than a neon pink one, a neutral coloured sofa will work no matter what colour your walls are or what house you move into.
Does it account for physical changes in people? (people get bigger and smaller)
Or changes in setting like a new home? (different room sizes and colours)
Does it have a specific use, or can it serve multiple purposes?
(a ballgown is probably only fit for a ball)
If a specific use, does your product adapt for different variants in that specification? (throw a jacket over the ballgown and a pair of boots to dress it down)
Things to think about when making a purchase you want to last.
Have you researched the item and read reviews on performance?
Does your product remain relevant for multiple seasons?
Assuming the product is durable, how will it look when it is well worn? (think about Converse or Levis which get better with age)
Get a compost bin! Fruit and vegetable food waste, paper, leaves, twine, wood chips can all be composted, lots of packaging is now degradable, compostable or biodegradable.
Is this the best option in terms of longevity?
Is your waste compostable?
Is your waste labelled degradable or biodegradable?
Is your waste made from something natural?
12. Non-Fossil Energy
This can apply to your energy supplier, the car that you drive, and how you use energy in everyday life.
How are you getting/using your energy?
Can your energy supplier give you renewable energy options? Can you install any renewable energy devices in your home? (solar/wind/water)
What is the best choice for transport? (public/pushbike/car)
Questioning things that we have taken for granted for so long can be a bit daunting, but when you have them broken down like this it’s easy to see that none of them are really that radical.
It’s all about understanding the importance of starting somewhere; this is about progress, not perfection.